A Road Less Traveled


"Recession" was a seldom-heard word when Jonathan Orpin began his home search three years ago. Home prices seemed to be on a never-ending climb and sellers had all the leverage in the world.

But rather than moving lockstep with the rest of the market, Jonathan blazed a different trail. He decided to build his own home.

"It was a hard decision for us to move at all," says Jonathan, who prior to making his decision, had lived with his family in a scenic enclave of Rochester, N.Y., for several years. "But it seemed like it was time, as I like to say, to get a view from a different mountain."

So with his wife, son, and family pets in tow, Jonathan set out to travel the country in search of a new place to call home – and they did it without driving on any major highways.

"We could feel our old life kinda melt away a little bit," says Jonathan, reflecting on the transformative journey.

The family finally made their way to Portland, Ore., and fell in love with the area. But when they began their home search in earnest, they ran into an impasse.

"Our first thought was just to buy an existing home," he says. "It was, however, the height of the market and the homes we were interested in were, frankly, overpriced."

But Jonathan, a homebuilder by trade, wasn't ready to give up on his West Coast dreams so easily. In their search for an existing home, they stumbled upon an idyllic hidden lot with a creek running nearby.

Thus began a grueling 18-month process of designing, permitting and building the home from the ground up. Even with Jonathan's experience in home construction, the stakes were higher than usual. This would be his first home project in the West, and he had a lot to prove -- both professionally and to his family.

"Every single decision had to go through a huge number of filters and a lot of talking and debating and research," he says. "That was a much longer row to hoe than we had thought."

Luckily for Jonathan, home design is a family affair in the Orpin residence. His wife, Maxine, did the interior design for the home. There were several features that the Orpins wanted to include in their new home, and key among them was eco-friendly design.

The home was built with sustainable wood sources, fitted with solar photovoltaic panels to supplement their energy usage, and it even included a unique plumbing system that heats their water with the warmth of the sun.

"Most days we're able to shower or wash our clothes with sun-heated water," he says.

Despite all the hard work that went into building their 2,000-square-foot home, within two years of starting construction, the home was ready to move into. At a time when many homebuyers looked at their homes as an investment, Jonathan and his family had built their home from the ground up, with only their futures in mind.

"The last few years have been an interesting, certainly challenging, and sometimes difficult journey of moving.... [especially] in the middle of a recession," he says. "Honestly, it was probably harder than we thought it was going to be, but frankly, we'd do it again."

Originally published